Even healthy children as young as 9 years old can start to show an increased risk of future heart problems if they are physically inactive, according to a study in the May issue of Acta Paediatrica.
A team of researchers from Sweden and Denmark studied 223 children -- 123 boys and 100 girls -- with an average age of 9.8 years, assessing their physical activity levels over four days.
They found that the children who were more physically active had a lower composite risk factor score for cardiovascular disease (CVD) than the children with lower amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity and vigorous physical activity.
"It is well known that physical inactivity in adults is associated with a wide range of diseases and all causes of death" says lead author Dr Tina Tanha from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden.
"We believe that our study now demonstrates a clear clinical association between physical inactivity and multiple CVD risk factors in children. It reveals that up to 11 per cent of the variance in composite CVD risk factor scores in the children could be explained by differences in their physical activity."
The children wore an accelerometer strapped to an elastic waist belt for four consecutive days to measure physical activity levels, using parameters set by two large accelerometer studies. Children were only included in the study if they wore the belt for a minimum of eight hours a day for three days. They also underwent tests for various CVD risk factors, including blood pressure, resting heart rate, fitness and body fat.
Key findings included:
"Previous research into CVD risk factors in children have focused on quite specific single risk factors, but our study covers multiple risk factors" explains Dr Tanha.
"Our results show a significant association between low levels of activity and high composite risk factors for CVD, even in young children. Much of the association was driven by body fat measurements and oxygen intake.
"This is important because the accumulation of these risk factors, if started in early childhood and sustained over a long period, is believed to have greater impact on CVD and mortality than one single risk factor."
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